A large number of natural killer (NK) cells appear in human uterine mucosa during the secretory phase and first trimester pregnancy. We investigated the expression of interleukin (IL)-15, a possible stimulator for these NK cells, in human endometrium and first trimester decidua. Semiquantitative reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction revealed that IL-15 mRNA expression was stronger during the secretory phase and first trimester pregnancy than during the proliferative phase. Immunohistochemistry revealed that immunoreactivity for anti-IL-15 was higher during the secretory phase than it was during the proliferative phase. This was prominent in the perivascular stromal cells around invading spiral arteries during the mid- to late-secretory phase. In first trimester decidua, endothelial cells were also stained as strongly as stromal cells. A membrane-bound IL-15 molecule was detected on the surface of first trimester decidual cells by flow cytometry. Progesterone stimulated the release of soluble IL-15 in the supernatant of cultured decidual cells. These results suggest that IL-15 expression in human uterine mucosa corresponds to the fluctuation of uterine NK cells and that its production is hormonally controlled, especially by progesterone.
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